The call for a summit on the problem of Rohingya migration and deaths is an excellent step by the government. It deserves support, particularly from Myanmar and Malaysia. These two countries are directly involved in pushing out and pulling in the migrants being so abominably treated in Thailand. It is encouraging to see Australia offer to help with the proposed summit. Details, as always, must be worked out, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s plan needs some refining.
First and foremost, it is vital to expand the suggested scope of any such meeting. It’s clear that the discovery last week of the mass graves of Rohingya migrants in the South has increased the urgent need for a summit.
But, as tragic and as current as the Rohingya migration problem is, it only is part of an overall regional problem. The number of migrants from Indochina countries is at the highest point since the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia 40 years ago.
Myanmar’s cruel treatment of its Rohingya minority makes up only part of a wider issue. The continuing exodus of boat people and “land refugees” from western Myanmar is a constant reminder of how that country’s government has failed so many of its people in the post-dictatorship era.
It is unclear whether President Thein Sein and his ministers and parliament can be persuaded to change their treatment of the Rohingya. Even the democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has given support to the divisive and cruel treatment of the Rohingya, which is arguably illegal under international law.
But a summit will give Gen Thein Sein a chance to explain his government’s policies, as well as a chance for decent people to answer him.
Malaysia no doubt sees itself as playing a positive role in the exodus and dangerous plight of the Rohingya.
There is no doubt, however, that its promise of sanctuary and residence for any Myanmar Muslims who make it to Malaysia is an encouragement for hundreds, possibly thousands to leave Myanmar for the trek to Malaysia. They risk injury, hunger, enslavement and death along the way. They encourage human traffickers and corrupt officials to participate in the migration process.
So, too, do the “economic migrants” who hope to find work outside Indochina and Myanmar — usually in Thailand.
The lucky ones are given documentation and find decent jobs at fair wages. Registration in Thailand is tedious and arbitrary at best, and usually corrupt. Employees often become slaves through the policies of their employers.
Slave conditions aboard fishing boats and trawlers is now well documented, particularly in the Thai industry. One can hope the well-deserved European yellow-card will help to clean up the ill treatment of fishing workers.
A summit should put this issue directly and starkly on the agenda. This brings another major player to the table.
Indonesia has long been the most important stopover country for Australia-bound migrants. It also plays host to the worst type of foreign and domestic fishermen.
Last month’s discovery of mass graves of people who were, in some cases, destined for the treacherous fishing industry should shock Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia into action.
A summit to discuss migration deserves support. A focused agenda, run by a strong leader, has the potential to start reversing human trafficking within Asean.